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Purchase of US embassy building by top pro-Israel donor raises ethical questions in Congress

Sheldon Adelson, US business magnate in Hollywood, Florida on 7 December 2019 [MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]
Sheldon Adelson, US business magnate in Hollywood, Florida on 7 December 2019 [MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images]

The sale of US ambassador's official residence in Tel Aviv to Sheldon Adelson, a top funder of the Republican Party and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has raised ethical questions within Congress. The Jewish-American billionaire, known for his strong support for the state of Israel, has been a key figure in President Donald Trump's controversial decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to occupied Jerusalem.

Adelson's purchase of the $80 million building – the most expensive residential real-estate transaction in Israeli history – was announced earlier this week by the embassy but details of the byer was not disclosed. The Associated Press, which reported the story yesterday, said that the sale is meant to cement Trump's controversial move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, by making it impossible for any future US President to reverse the decision.

However, the AP pointed out that the Israeli business newspaper Globes has identified the buyer as Adelson, a strong supporter of both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Representatives for Adelson, who is a billionaire casino magnate, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

The sale has raised ethical questions within Congress. The AP, citing a congressional aid reported that the House Foreign Affairs Committee has submitted several requests for information from the State Department about whether the sale followed regulations.

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Among the questions is said to be whether a real-estate broker was used, and an independent appraisal of the property was conducted. The panel also wants to know whether the agent had any political ties.

Senators from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are said to have also requested a briefing from the State Department, according to a Senate Democratic aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the situation.

Adelson is a key figure in shoring up US-Israel relations. Often seen in the front row of major geo-political announcements related to Israel and Palestine, the 87-year-old is known to have played a major role in the US embassy move. American news site Vox even suggested that the casino mogul could also pay for the US embassy building in Jerusalem.

Last year a US appeals court reopened a billion-dollar lawsuit against Adelson, which sought to hold him and more than 30 others liable for war crimes and support of Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

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